Biology of pigmentation: from the colour of the skin to the development of the visual system
Doctor Maria Vittoria Schiaffino
Mammals, including human beings, have the majority of the visible colour of their skin, eyes, hair (or fur) determined by a pigment called melanin that ranges in colour from yellow-red to brown-black.
Melanin is generated in the human body by a small group of pigmented cells who control the coloration of the skin, protect the skin from the ultraviolet radiation and absorb light in the eyes.
This last aspect is particularly important because the presence of a pigment able to absorb light is part of the definition of the eye: an organ able to detect light and its origin in a spatially defined way. Furthermore, pigmented cells are also necessary for the correct development of the visual system, as well demonstrated by the visual problems linked to albinism.
Our knowledge of the pigmentation system has improved drastically in these past years thanks to the progress in the molecular genetics and cellular biology fields.
The purpose and auspice of this presentation is to explain, in a non-esoteric language, our knowledge on subjects ranging from the melanin and pigmented cells to the development of the visual system and to supply basic “biological” information helpful for the understanding of the clinical themes that we are going to introduce later on this blog.